Olivia Foster-Browne as Casey Seegar in An Officer and a Gentleman, credit Marc Brenner

An Officer and a Gentleman: The Musical tours the UK

As Leicester Curve’s production of An Officer and a Gentleman: The Musical tours the UK, director Nikolai Foster says audiences are in for a surprise. “I think a lot of people associate it with being a cheesy 80s romcom,” he smiles about the stage version of the iconic 1982 film. “There’s nothing wrong with a cheesy 80s romcom – and we offer some tasteful cheesy choices in our production – but audiences will be surprised by the depth of this story and how moving the show is. It is genuinely uplifting because we invest in the lives of these characters and care about them.”

It’s the tale of hot-headed and determined Naval candidate Zack Mayo (played by Richard Gere in the movie) who has a fiery, passionate relationship with factory worker Paula Pokrifki (Debra Winger on screen) before sweeping her off her feet in the soaringly romantic finale.

The Hirsch and Lerner score has been swapped out for a fantastic soundtrack of 1980s hits by the likes of Cyndi Lauper, Bon Jovi, Kim Wilde, Madonna, Blondie and Martika as well as incorporating the worldwide smash hit Up Where We Belong from the movie.

As Nikolai feels: “Popular pop songs have helped to articulate the emotions of our characters. In some ways these appear to be ordinary and unremarkable lives but the characters created by Douglas Day Stewart (based on his own experiences) have remarkable stories to tell. When you throw a load of 80s pop hits into this world, it truly is uplifting and sings in the way only a musical can. The songs in our show express something of the characters’ inner lives and emotions that they are unable to speak in their everyday lives. The music heightens the emotions.”

The narrative is set in Pensacola, Florida, in the early 80s but the director notes: “Delicately depicting the experiences of working class people back then, the story continues to resonate. At a time when we are finally starting to consider what a fairer society could look like – with particular emphasis on women’s rights, anti-racism and training opportunities available to those from disadvantaged backgrounds – this simple story still has much to say about our society today.”

Taking on the leading role of Zack Mayo is “pretty major” for Luke Baker. “It’s a massive role and I just want to make sure that I do it justice,” says the actor who trained at ArtsEd and whose credits include Billy Elliot, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, American Idiot, Sunny Afternoon and Hairspray. “There’s a lot for an actor to dig into because he’s suffered loss and heartache, and now he’s going through this tough training regime.”

Luke recalls seeing the film version when he was young and rewatched it after he landed the role. “And it’s such a brilliant story. The characters, both in the film and the show, are really relatable and you’ve got the love story and all the struggles that go with it before the happy, stirring ending. Then on top of that you’ve got an amazing musical numbers and the iconic white suit.”

He smiles. “It feels incredible to be wearing it and what [orchestrator and musical supervisor] George Dyer has done with Up Where We Belong is fantastic. It’s so emotional and it blows people away. It’s like being at a rock concert.”

Choreographer Joanna Goodwin promises people will leave the theatre with smiles on their faces, saying: “It’s a hard-hitting story in places, just as it was in the film, but it’s also joyful and heartwarming.”

Goodwin feels audiences are hungry for a musical like this. “At the moment everybody is grabbing onto that sense of nostalgia and anything that reminds them of a time where maybe they had more money or they were a little bit happier in their lives. And it’s such an iconic story, isn’t it? People look at the poster and go ‘Oh, I know and I love it’. With the show, they’re guaranteed a nostalgic good time and a great night out.”

It’s interesting to learn that the legendary closing scene in the film almost didn’t happen because Richard Gere worried it contradicted the visceral grittiness of the rest of story. “In some ways he was right,” Nikolai admits, “but it’s a moment of magical realism that celebrates the unspoken ambitions and hopes for a better future, which is something we can all relate to. Who doesn’t have moments where we’d like to escape to a better life?” 

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